Schmaltz and Gribenes

Anybody who wants to make truly authentic Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine must first learn how to make schmaltz and gribenes. Schmaltz is an important ingredient in many Jewish recipes, and is a must-know for anybody wanting to prepare authentic Ashkenazi cuisine. Gribenes are a by-product of the process used to collect schmaltz. Some of you might find this blog a bit– well, unappetizing. To the modern health-conscious cook, schmaltz and gribenes sound like a heart attack waiting to happen. Schmaltz is full of cholesterol, but it adds a very unique flavor to dishes that is unmatched by any other type of oil. While many people find gribenes delicious, others might consider them too strange or unhealthy to enjoy. Take them or leave them, schmaltz and gribenes are quintessentially Jewish.

Though richly flavored, both dishes evolved out of frugality. In Eastern Europe and other Ashkenazi countries, chicken meat was an expensive treat. When a chicken was purchased from the butcher, every part of the bird was used. Schmaltz and gribenes are two creative ways of using parts of the chicken that might otherwise be thrown away.

Schmaltz is basically rendered chicken fat. It is collected by slowly sautéing chicken skin and fat, then collecting the liquid fat that melts as it cooks. It’s easy to make and adds an authentic flavor to many Jewish recipes, including matzo balls and chopped liver.

After collecting the schmaltz, continue to fry the chicken skin with onion to produce a batch of crispy little gribenes. They can be snacked on as-is or added as a condiment to other dishes. I like to think of gribenes as the Jewish alternative to bacon. It’s fatty, flavorful fried goodness—and it’s kosher!

You might be wondering, “Where do I get a whole pound of chicken skin and fat?” Well, you can collect it from your everyday chicken recipes (store it in the freezer and thaw before using), or you can ask your butcher. Regular butchers will sometimes give it to you for free, since it’s stuff they would normally throw away. Kosher butchers will usually charge you, though, because they know what you’re up to!

You can also collect schmaltz by cooling chicken soup in the refrigerator, then skimming the solid fat that rises to the top. I prefer the method described here, as it consistently produces perfect golden schmaltz every time.

Next week, I’ll be posting my traditional chicken chopped liver recipe, which uses both schmaltz and gribenes in the mix.  :)

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Schmaltz and Gribenes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. chicken skin and fat
  • 1 large onion
  • Salt and pepper

You will also need

  • Nonstick skillet, mesh strainer, paper towels
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour
Servings: 1 cup of schmaltz, 4-6 servings of gribenes
Kosher Key: Meat, Kosher for Passover

To Make Schmaltz

  • Rinse the pound of chicken skin and fat, pat dry, then chop it into small 1/2 inch pieces.
  • Place the skin and fat into a skillet on the stovetop (make sure it's nonstick!) and turn heat to low. Cover the skillet and let it cook on low for about 15 minutes. Liquid fat will start to pool at the bottom of the skillet.
  • Uncover the skillet and raise heat to medium low. Let it cook for another 15-20 minutes, breaking the pieces apart with a spatula and stirring frequently, until the skin starts to brown and curl at the edges. At this point there should be quite a bit of liquid fat at the bottom of the pan—this liquid is your schmaltz.
  • Remove pan from heat. Pour the schmaltz from the skillet into a container, using a mesh strainer to catch any small pieces of skin.
  • A golden oil will result—this is called schmaltz. It can be used in a variety of Jewish dishes or as a cooking fat. Reserve the cooked skin and fat pieces, you can use them to make gribenes. The schmaltz will stay liquid at room temperature; it will become solid and opaque if you refrigerate it.

To Make Gribenes

  • After collecting the schmaltz, return the cooked chicken skin and fat to the skillet. Peel the onion, cut it into thin slices and add it to the skillet.
  • Season the chicken skin and onions generously with salt and pepper. Turn heat to medium and sauté the mixture for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pieces are dark brown and crispy. Don’t leave them alone for long or they’ll burn! You want them dark brown, but not blackened.
  • Remove the gribenes from the skillet with a slotted spoon and drain them on a paper towel.
  • Season again with salt and pepper to taste. Gribenes can be snacked on as-is or added to other dishes as a topping.

 

Comments (98)Post a Comment

  1. This brought back memories & understanding for me as a child. My Mom used to save all the fat rendered from cooking various meats & store it for future use. She very rarely bought cooking oil. My Mom did a lot of what I thought as “odd” stuff in the kitchen to save money, but now I realize that during the war, they had to be creative & she just continued to do it. I have found a very old old cookbook that she had in England and I am going to try them, just for ole-time sake. Thank you for the memory.

  2. Ever since mom passed away, I’ve tried to keep up the schmaltz tradition. When I make it, it turns out fine, but the gribenes are not crunchy, though quite brown. I add the onions after most of the fat is rendered, but not after the skin has fully browned. Is there a better technique for assuring crispy skin without burning?

    1. I always end up with crispy gribenes. My technique is as follows. First I wash with cold water the collected fat and skin. I freeze the 2-3 pounds of raw chicken fat globules, which I save from the back end of the chicken at the back end of the thigh. There is usually one large flat mass of yellow fat there, about 2 inches by 2 inches by 1/4 inch. I wash these and lay them flat in large gallon plastic bags about 2-3 to a layer. I freeze these and then remove them and with a very big sharp knife I cut these into long strips about 1 inch wide. I then cut the strips into 1 inch squares. These I put into a very deep stock pot and place it over medium high heat. This comes to a boil and I boil and stir until all the fatty tissue and skin has rendered out its fat. The gribenes are allowed to continue browning until they are a pretty deep brown. I then use a Chinese skimmer, a spider, to scoop out the solid grebinez while they are frying. I place them into a strainer over the boiling fat and allow them to drain. If you scoop them out from very hot frying fat they will be crispy when they cool, but, you have to let them render ALL their fat. Do not have the fat become so hot that it burns the grebinez. It is then that I add my huge amount of chopped onions and fry them for about 45 minutes at which time they then are browned, not burned, and I remove them with more of the fat along with them and save this portion as a seasoning item…fried onion and fat. I then bottle the liquid fat and freeze it for future use. I end up with three products; one is the grebinez which I never know what to do with, two is the fried onions with lots of schmaltz along with it which I grind into chopped liver or place into mashed potatoes for knish filling seasoning. Three is the plane schmaltz which is used to pan fry a smashed potato or to season matza balls, knish filling and chopped liver. Four just spread on bread and sprinkle with garlic salt. I also paint it onto the outside dough of the knishs with a pastry brush before baking the knishes.

  3. Dear Stuart:
    Thanks for the tip. I suspect my problem was adding the onions way too soon. I look forward to trying your technique on the next batch.

    Dovd’l

  4. I collect my next batch of raw chicken fat Nov. 26, when I do my next charity chicken preparation. Should be enough for 4 pints of schmaltz. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota if anyone wants to watch the technique we can schedule a “class” some day in the future.

  5. Omg… i grew up with the Schmaltz and Gribenes. Until i was 4 years old, i was at home and my grandma, who lived with us, took care of me in the mornings. I used to sit with her in the kitchen, and watch her cook. I loved the days of the Schmaltz and Gribenes. She used to serve me a slice of fresh bread, covered with Gribenes. It was divine. God rest her soul. (Grandma was born in Romania, and her family was from Poland)

  6. I moved to Wyoming 14 years ago and have really struggled to make high altitude matzo balls. I have read that adding seltzer helps, but have not heard about how much! I am also frustrated that I cannot get matzo meal here. So, this time I took matzos (not for passover unfortunately) and went ahead and used my processor to grind them up. Worked, but I wish I could get what I need here! Soooo, can you help with the matzo ball crisis??

  7. Substitute the soda for the water or soup. Also, separate the whites of the egg and beat them to a stiff stage and fold this into the matzah meal you made. If you want more course meal, you pulse the matzah in the food processor then pour it into a strainer and shake it about and you will loose the finer dust like material and be left with the sort of matzah meal you want.

  8. Linda, Go to google and get the top 2 sites for matzoh. I`m not sure of the spelling. Send the first one an email asking why no matzohmeal in Wyoming and can they send you a couple of boxes COD. Might get lucky. Then try the Shiksas` recipe.

  9. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Enjoyed reading your blog, history and insights to the food you prepare. I have always found the history and meaning of the foods we eat interesting. I was wondering what your thoughts were on using the duck fat that a properly roasted duck provides in lieu of schmaltz. I use it to saute veggies like asparagus. Du8ck fat adds a wonderful flavor to them

    1. Hi Greg, I think duck fat is a great alternative to schmaltz in many applications! It has a slightly duck-ish flavor which is delicious, however it may not be a welcome addition to certain traditional Jewish dishes (matzo balls, etc.)– it really depends on how “traditional” you want the dish to taste. For other applications like sauteed veggies to for caramelizing onions, I think duck fat is fantastic. My local Whole Foods sells rendered duck fat by the tub, and I sometimes buy it as a special treat for cooking. :)

  10. Tori-

    I had no idea that Whole Foods sold duck fat. I’m changing from my gym sneakers to my sexy sandals, missing my workout, and going to Whole Foods immediately. I love the stuff but I don’t like duck itself so I no longer prepare duck. I’m already salivating. And for those who question the validity of eating fat, I’ve lost 145 pounds on a very high-fat regimen (and never felt deprived or hungry).

    1. Marly, you will love it! Hope your local Whole Foods sells it, sometimes they carry different products. FYI the brand that they sell is not kosher, just in case that’s a concern. And I agree, fat is our friend! :)

  11. As many others, I have loved reading through this cultural smashup of schmaltz forms and use. My very assimilated culturally Jewish family made gribenes every time we had chicken, even a very small amount and mixed it with the chicken giblets and hearts or chopped liver. These days I am accosted by my friends for making this “unhealthy” food. Life is too short to give up those things that have so much love and history attached.

  12. Had schmaltz years ago at Sammy’s Roumanian Restaurant and loved it. Didn’t rediscover it until just recently and now make it all the time (with onions, love the flavor and don’t mind the slightly darker color) and feel so good that I’m using all the chicken and not wasting anything but bones and sinew. Wish I started making it before my Jewish mom died last fall. She’d’ve loved us getting back to our roots.

  13. I’ve been raising chickens on open pasture and woodland and when I started butchering them, I get this beautiful, yellow fat out of them. These are chickens and roosters that are 6 months to a year old. From some hens, I can easily get a half cup of this fluffy fat when I butcher them, which is like soft butter at room temperature, and melts instantly in a pan. There’s no rendering involved. I’m just curious if anyone else has seen this fat. There’s a picture of this fat at the bottom of this link: link to wp.me

  14. Daniel; I volunteer at a Loaves & Fishes facility. We serve a meal of oven roasted chicken. We purchase 240 pounds of chicken, legs attached to thighs. It’s my job to, with multiple knives, cut the legs from the thighs. Each thigh has this lobule of fat. Some of the chickens have this bright yellow fat lobule just like you described. These must be from free range chickens, otherwise the fat is white as snow. I render the fat and save it for cooking and seasoning.

  15. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Hi Ms Avey.
    I was reading this and found it necessary to comment on my experience vis-a-vis gribenes. In an effort to know more about the food my Ashkenazi ancestors ate, I made some shmaltz and a small amount of gribenes. I put the shmaltz away and ate some of the gribenes, though not much. I was very ill for over two days afterward. Basically I’m a healthy eater but I like to indulge in a treat now and then, so I thought the gribenes would be a good idea. I soon regretted it.
    Traditions don’t stay static. They develop and change according to the needs of the times, and the challenge is how to do so while staying true to their essence. To that effect I think it mistaken to say that something like gribenes is essential to Ashkenazi cuisine. Please remember that the Ashkenazi Jews were very poor and downtrodden and they often went without food, so when they had access to something rich and calories, they made the most of it. Nonetheless, in our day and age, the vast majority of Ashkenazi cuisine can be made in a wholesome, healthy manner (e.g. reducing the sugar, using whole wheat flour, etc). and to that effect, things like gefilte fish, herring, brisket, chicken soup, borscht, schav, matzo balls, kreplach, bagels, bialys, rugelach, honey cake, and even kishke, can be made with health in mind. I’ve even discovered how to make sugar-free apricot pletzlach and carrot imberlach. Even shmaltz can be OK if you eat it very occasionally on say a bagel, and you spread it paper thin (Remember, a little goodness goes a long way). But I’m sorry to say that gribenes is one thing that I don’t think we can salvage. Our health-oriented 21st century bodies simply can’t digest something that rich and fatty. This is the epiphany I had as a result of my unfortunate gribenes episode.

    1. Joe-I’m sorry about your gastrointestinal distress. Having lost 145 pounds (after 60 years as a strict low-fat vegetarian), gribenes is an almost daily treat for me. There are no bagels or wheat or potatoes or noodles any more (alas, no kugel). But, at 81 (May 2, 2014), I workout six-days-a-week with weights and men younger than my son “hit” on me. So, life is full of saturated fat and happiness. Conventional thinking can be so limiting.

    2. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
      Malka
      First, there was no ‘reply’ button underneath your comment, so I pressed ‘reply’ underneath my own comment in the hope that it will appear beneath yours. Don’t know if that will work but I’m keeping my fingers crossed, so here goes.
      There may be a great deal of merit in what you do. I too, have lost a tremendous amount of weight in part by limiting the carbs (and I too, use weights), but now that I’m nearing the end, I’m going to be bringing bagels back into my diet (whole wheat and rye bagels), and kugel as well (whole wheat pasta), and potatoes (though certainly not every day). I want to be sure that there is a great deal of fiber in my diet. As far as shmaltz is concerned, I think it has a place if used very sparingly, so for instance I could make a bagel with some rare roast beef, mustard, and pickle, and on one side of the bagel (one side only), a paper thin coating of shmaltz.
      Maybe what it boils down to is what you’re used to, and gribenes–well for me it was my first time and my last. My parents-in-law thought I was nuts for even trying it, but then when they were kids, gribenes were commonly eaten; not when I was a kid, so I guess I was trying to experience what previous generations experienced.
      It simply came as a surprise to me that Ms Avey would put gribenes on her blog, though it doesn’t seem to have affected her, particularly because people who live unhealthy lives–their skin, hair, eyes, and body deteriorate and you can see it. That clearly hasn’t happened to Ms. Avey who, based on the pictures, is a strikingly attractive woman. But for me, well, my gribenes adventure has come to an end….

  16. Joe-A quick comment. I have serious work to do today = mani/pedi/shampoo. Fiber. Why? We now enter the arena of TMI. I haven’t eaten fiber for years. I am the queen of daily poops. How is that possible?

    Fat. Saturated luscious fat from meat, chicken and duck skin, butter, coconut oil. How come I still model at 81 and I’ve never done Botox or cosmetic surgery or fillers? Because I feed myself from within so that the outside flourishes. No face creams. Just edible fat.

    You’ve switched to wheat to improve your nutrition. News flash. Bad move.

    1. Malka
      It sounds very extreme to me. Fiber is much better, vital for good digestion, and there’s nothing wrong with wheat, especially whole wheat, unless you’re wheat intolerant, which I’m not. People have been eating wheat for millenia; its been a staple and I know many who eat it and are fine and look just as good as you tell me you do. As to why you look so good while eating fat, well I’ll just have to take your word for it, won’t I? You say you feed yourself from within so the outside flourishes. But is the inside flourishing? Or perhaps you just are fortunate in that you have really good genetics that allow for this.

      I haven’t given up altogether on fats. I just use them sparingly. A wee bit of shmaltz here and there doesn’t hurt anyone, but gribenes–after my bad experience, I’ve learned my lesson. I am very wary when anyone tells me to remove something entirely from my diet. I’ve heard people say, don’t eat dairy, don’t eat cheese, don’t eat this, don’t eat that. Extreme diets are bad news.

  17. Of course I use the schmaltz in chopped liver and as a seasoning for the potato in knishes. Another use is for “smashed potatoes”. Boil up Yukon Gold small potatoes to them being almost done. Drain and allow to cool a little. Then on a cutting board, smash each one flat with your palm. Heat a cast iron 10-12 inch fry pan. Put the schmaltz, onions or shallots and garlic slices into the pan. Bring to high heat and all salt and pepper. Then place the potatoes in and using a spatula or wooden spoon press them into the bottom of the pan. Salt and pepper this up-side. Saute them until they are browned on the bottom then flip and add more schmaltz and oil and fry that side. Then serve.

  18. I keep reading that gribenes sound like a heart attack waiting to happen.
    Well, I eat them regularly (and avidly). I’m 83 and the doctor told me I’ve got the heart of a 21 year old.
    Eat ! Enjoy ! You only live once.

  19. Leon-

    You are a mensch. But just imagine that there’s some poor 21-year-old kid roaming around without a heart because you’ve got his. My late mother, beautiful, brilliant, Orthodox, would be horrified if she knew that I also prepare my own pork rinds. I guess it’s straight to hell for me.

  20. Is there any use for the solid fat that one collects from the top of a home make chicken soup, once it has been chilled?

    Or does one have to render the fat by frying as you describe above for it to be proper, useful shmaltz?

    1. Hi Karry, the fat that collects on homemade chicken soup is also schmaltz, and can be used interchangeably with the rendered variety described in this post. If you’ve cooked vegetables and spices with the soup and salted the broth, keep in mind that those flavors will be somewhat present in the fat you collect.

  21. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Karry; We always use that fat as the oil or fat needed in the matza balls that we make to go into the soup. It’s perfect. Sure, it may carry flavors of the soup, but, so what? You are enjoying the same soup with the matza balls. Enjoy.

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